Writing originally published by Crowd Talks 2015
My first experience of a Brighton illustration degree show came in 2001 at the Coningsby Gallery in London. Lawrence Zeegen, then the head of the Graphic Design & illustration courses at the University of Brighton, invited me along to the exhibition after being introduced during my graduation show at the Royal College of Art. It was the only tangible thing that I got from the show at the RCA, so I duly went along the following week to see what the Brighton students were all about.
The Brighton Illustration Show a chance for those who hadn’t seen the degree show at Brighton to see the work of graduating illustrators. Having a second exhibition in London was nothing new, indeed Kingston University had held their own ‘London’ shows at the Coningsby Gallery for a number of years, and I remember myself transporting artworks to the gallery from Kingston one weekend to set up the exhibition.
I was asked to begin teaching at Brighton the following Autumn, the start of a lengthy relationship with the university leading up to the present day being the Course Leader of the illustration programme. What became apparent in those subsequent years of teaching at Brighton was the growing independence of these exhibitions, to today when they are completely student led.
Gradually I began to notice an increase to the scope & ambition of these Brighton student led exhibitions. From the early involvement in the burgeoning ‘Free Range’ series of graduate shows at the Truman Brewery in the East End of London, to shows at the Rag Factory just off Brick Lane E2, Rochelle School on Arnold Circus, Netil House at London Fields, and the Car Park Show in Chelsea 2013 in a former car sales dealership, what has always impressed me has been the scale of ambitions of the students.
The Graphic Design & Illustration courses at Brighton prides itself on the fact that the students themselves fundraise through out the 3 years of the undergraduate studies, to culminate in the organization & curating a graduate show externally of the university, as part of the learning process in the final year. This show to be honest is usually better than the assessment degree show at the university, reflecting greater identity and self-confidence gained from the earlier exhibition.
Each show has had it’s own character, whether the provocative use of bare chipboard to hang work upon & dry ice at an infamous private view in the Truman Brewery, causing a letter of complaint from one visitor of another show that it felt like they were entering a rave! From such youthful spirit to the ‘Now What’ exhibition of 2012 whose students wanted to question the profession that they were about to enter, featuring writing and an event evening that later was to spawn Crowd Talks themselves.
The importance of this independence is in harnessing the spirit of the year group, allowing the students to break away from the institutional, and to reflect their own concerns or agenda beyond simply a display of work. This forms an important element of forming an individual identity, both individually & collectively – allowing students to enter the professional world on their own terms, discussing social and political awareness.
In an increasingly non-linear career path, the individual who can design his or her own job is becoming vital to stand out, and not to feed into an industry. Also it is important in the light of tuition fees and politicized student bodies. Having the confidence to trust students to explore not only themes or subjects that may be contentious but also the very means of communicating, and the forms of presentation within a degree show.
© Roderick Mills